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The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World

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The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

From Powells.com:

You might not imagine that a simple unit of measurement could qualify as an explosive secret, driving scientific men to the limits of their sanity. But the length of the meter — conceived as one ten-millionth of the distance from the pole to the equator — involved just such subterfuge and deceit. Ken Alder details the story of two astronomers who set out to make science both flawless and accessible by standardizing the basic unit of the metric system. But because of errors in measurement, the quest became a disarming examination of the nature — and relevance — of objective truth. Set firmly in the political and cultural context of France in the Age of Reason, The Measure of All Things reveals Alder's skill as a novelist and precision and depth as a historian. Adrienne Miller (Esquire) remarks that the work is "as irresistible as a thriller"; it is also an intriguing study of our fascination with perfection. Jill, Powells.com

Publisher Comments:

In June 1792, amidst the chaos of the French Revolution, two intrepid astronomers set out in opposite directions on an extraordinary journey. Starting in Paris, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre would make his way north to Dunkirk, while Pierre-François-André Méchain voyaged south to Barcelona. Their mission was to measure the world, and their findings would help define the meter as one ten-millionth of the distance between the pole and the equator — a standard that would be used "for all people, for all time."

The Measure of All Things is the astonishing tale of one of history's greatest scientific adventures. Yet behind the public triumph of the metric system lies a secret error, one that is perpetuated in every subsequent definition of the meter. As acclaimed historian and novelist Ken Alder discovered through his research, there were only two people on the planet who knew the full extent of this error: Delambre and Méchain themselves.

By turns a science history, detective tale, and human drama, The Measure of All Things describes a quest that succeeded as it failed — and continues to enlighten and inspire to this day.

Review:

"Alder has placed Delambre and Mechain squarely in the larger context of the Enlightenment's quest for perfection in nature and its startling discovery of a world 'too irregular to serve as its own measure.' Particularly fascinating is his treatment of the politics of 18th-century measurement, notably the challenge the savants of the period faced in imposing a standard of weights and measures in the complicated post-ancien regime climate. Alder convincingly argues that science and self-knowledge are matters of inference, and by extension prone to error." Publishers Weekly

Review:

"Written in the vein of Dava Sobel's Longitude and reading much like a historical thriller, his book follows the seven-year effort of two accomplished astronomers to measure the meridian and the curvature of the earth from Dunkirk to Barcelona....Alder's first book, Engineering the Revolution, won the 1998 Dexter Prize; his second is a fascinating and well-written work." Library Journal

About the Author

Ken Alder is an associate professor of history at Northwestern University and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard. A novelist and an avid bicyclist, he has biked Delambre and Méchain's entire route. His first book, Engineering the Revolution, won the 1998 Dexter Prize for the best book on the history of technology. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Table of Contents

Contents

Dramatis Personae

Prologue

Chapter One: The North-Going Astronomer

Chapter Two: The South-Going Astronomer

Chapter Three: The Metric of Revolution

Chapter Four: The Castle of Mont-Jouy

Chapter Five: A Calculating People

Chapter Six: Fear of France

Chapter Seven: Convergence

Chapter Eight: Triangulation

Chapter Nine: The Empire of Science

Chapter Ten: The Broken Arc

Chapter Eleven: Méchain's Mistake, Delambre's Peace

Chapter Twelve: The Metered Globe

Epilogue: The Shape of Our World

Note on Measures

Note on Sources

Notes

Selected Bibliography

Acknowledgments

Index

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

tostrand, February 11, 2009 (view all comments by tostrand)
This is the fascinating story of the expedition that attempted to measure the length of the meridian passing through Paris, in order to determine a precise definition of the meter.
The expedition started in 1792, when Louis XVI was still (barely) on the throne of France, and ended in 1799, after the Terror, and slightly before the rise of Napoleon.
The author provides copious details of the difficulties faced by the two astronomers Delambre and Mechain. The excellent writing provides a personalized view of conditions existing all through this incredibly hard time.
The book ends with a short history of the adoption of the metric system throughout the world, with the U.S.A. conspicuously the last major country not to have converted.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780743216760
Author:
Alder, Ken
Publisher:
Free Press
Location:
New York
Subject:
History
Subject:
Metric system
Subject:
Meter (Unit)
Subject:
Arc measures.
Subject:
Meter
Subject:
Earth Sciences - Geography
Subject:
World - General
Subject:
General History
Subject:
Arc measures - History
Subject:
Meter (Unit) - History
Subject:
History of Science-General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
B102
Series Volume:
vol.15, no.17(A)
Publication Date:
October 2003
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
index; notes; halftones t-o; maps; front
Pages:
448
Dimensions:
8.44 x 5.5 in 20.965 oz

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Related Subjects


History and Social Science » Geography » General
Reference » Science Reference » General
Science and Mathematics » History of Science » General

The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World New Trade Paper
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$26.99 In Stock
Product details 448 pages Free Press - English 9780743216760 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Alder has placed Delambre and Mechain squarely in the larger context of the Enlightenment's quest for perfection in nature and its startling discovery of a world 'too irregular to serve as its own measure.' Particularly fascinating is his treatment of the politics of 18th-century measurement, notably the challenge the savants of the period faced in imposing a standard of weights and measures in the complicated post-ancien regime climate. Alder convincingly argues that science and self-knowledge are matters of inference, and by extension prone to error." Publishers Weekly
"Review" by , "Written in the vein of Dava Sobel's Longitude and reading much like a historical thriller, his book follows the seven-year effort of two accomplished astronomers to measure the meridian and the curvature of the earth from Dunkirk to Barcelona....Alder's first book, Engineering the Revolution, won the 1998 Dexter Prize; his second is a fascinating and well-written work."
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